“We are all free to disagree, just do it respectfully”:How I learnt best when I was allowed to have an opinion

In 1985, I did a one year Yoga Teachers Training Course with Yoga Vidya Niketan in Dadar.

I learnt Yoga directly, from the founder, Padmashri Yogacharya Shri Sadashiv Nimbalkar. An amazing teacher, and a true seeker, he encouraged us to find scientific reasoning to everything that was being taught.

The course was 1 year long, very thorough and included 1 hour of Yoga practices every day, which Sir conducted himself, at that time. On Sunday mornings we had lectures on the theory aspect of Yoga; and also on Anatomy and Physiology, which were taken by a Physician. Towards the end of the year, we had to take 3 real lessons for a group of other students; we had an examination, and also had to submit a small dissertation.

I was just 19, and I was simultaneously doing 2nd year of Physiotherapy studies at KEM hospital in Mumbai. I was a very subdued student in Physiotherapy, but in the Yoga classes I was a cocky, opinionated, precocious student. I was the youngest in the class, and also 1 out of just 2 students from a medical field (the other was my friend who was also studying physiotherapy). This made me feel somewhat superior and entitled. I questioned everything. I argued about everything. But Nimbalkar Sir patiently listened to my views which were diagonally opposite from his; he respected the difference of opinions, because he looked deeper than my superficial bravado and recognized my deep desire to learn Yoga. He knew that my questions and reservations needed to be acknowledged, so that I would believe in the process. He realized that I had the same goal as other students towards learning the practical aspects of Yoga; just a different perspective to some parts of the theory. He knew that if he allowed me to have my interpretations, I would learn better. He was far, far, ahead of me; he had nothing to lose from my challenges, and they did not faze him at all. He was always willing to listen to me, and guide me.

When we were almost at the end of the course, one day he arranged a debate. The topic for the debate was “Does Yoga have an application in the 20th century?” Those who wanted to participate were divided into 2 groups, the ones who said “Yes”, and the ones who said “No”. Everyone wanted to choose the side of the Ayes, so I chose the Nays, even though I believed the opposite. I was made the leader, and the others in my group were reluctant members. Everyone was sure that the Ayes would win. It was a no-brainer, and Nimbalkar sir was our judge.

The Nays won. He laughed as he presented me with the prize. He congratulated me, saying, “I cannot believe that I am giving you this prize, but you almost convinced me that Yoga is unnecessary in this century. I still do not agree, but your arguments were brilliant, and our other team could not match, so you win this time”. I hastily replied that I believed in the need for Yoga in any century, and if given a chance, I could argue that side even more convincingly!

He was fair and open-minded; respectful of an opinion that was backed up with a valid argument; pleasant and encouraging. You end up respecting such a teacher wholeheartedly, without any reservations. And when reservations disappear, you are free to learn. Over the period of that one year the precocious side of me had slowly dissolved. I did not need to argue. I respected his way of viewing Yoga just like he respected mine. He didn’t give up on me, and I gained a priceless education: not just in Yoga, but also in the art of subtly influencing people.

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